For the week of May 25, 1999  thru June 1, 1999  

Higher percentage of local families headed by single parents

Kids face higher risks for problems

Express Staff Writer

Idaho ranks 23rd in the nation in providing for children’s wellbeing, according to the national Kids Count study released last week. That relatively high ranking comes mainly because of the strength of two-parent families across the state.

But in Blaine County, two-parent families are the weakest link when it comes to the welfare of children, according to Kids Count data.

The 1999 Kids Count Data Book, published by the Annie E. Casie Foundation, is an annual study that tracks the status of children across the nation.

The study ranks each state on 10 indicators, including the percentage of children in poverty, teen birth rates, and the number of children headed by a single parent.

Of Idaho’s 44 counties, only Shoshone County had a higher number of single parent families with children under age 18 than Blaine County, according to 1990 data.

That number has risen, according to Helen Stroebel, director of Idaho Kids Count, the state Kids Count program.

The number of families with children under 18 headed by a single parent in Blaine County is about 21 percent.

That’s below the national average of 27 percent but above Idaho’s statewide average of 17 percent.

In Blaine County, where the median family income is the highest of any county in the state—about $58,000—it is single-parent families that put children most at risk, Stroebel said.

This year, Kids Count developed a family risk index to help identify children at risk for problems:

  • Children are not living with two parents.

  • Household head is high school dropout.

  • Family income is below the poverty line.

  • Child is living with parent(s) who do not have steady, full-time employment.

  • Family is receiving welfare benefits.

  • Child does not have health insurance.

In single-parent households, there is no immediate adult backup to reinforce disciplinary lessons or family teachings, to provide an additional role model, or simply to share the load of care, according to Kids Count.

To help lower the risks posed by single-parenting, a community-wide effort is needed, Stroebel said.

"The community of Blaine County would want to build its capacity of resources for those youth and make it possible for youth development opportunities," Stroebel said. "That would make it less likely for those kids to get in trouble."

Data from Kids Count corresponds to findings of the recent Asset Survey of 1,500 middle and high school students here. Only 26 percent of the respondents indicated that they had adult role models—parents and other adults of positive, responsible behavior.

WRHS social worker Robert Payne said many of the students he sees are the products of single-parent households.

"The implications go on and on and on," Payne said.

Payne said he has problems, though, with the term "single-parent."

"I don’t know how we allowed ‘single parent’ to enter our vocabulary," Payne said. "It implies immaculate conception. There’s another parent out there. We’re assuming that one parent can do it, when it’s hard for two to do it."

One of the most obvious problems in most single-parent households, Payne said, is the difficulty of establishing and maintaining boundaries.

Conflict between ex-spouses delays the recovery process from the divorce, according to Payne.

"If a war goes on, it undermines the kids’ self esteem," Payne said. "They know they’re the genetic product, so they take the attacks personally."

Until the age of 9, children are usually egocentric, Payne said, and egocentric children will blame themselves for the divorce. Often, these children will self-medicate to escape the trauma of divorce.

Adolescents are often so judgmental that they take sides with one parent and alienate themselves from the other, according to Payne

"Divorce is traumatic for kids," Payne said. "Their family dies."


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